Recent topic of debate in Bangalore was the ban on live music performance in pubs by Bangalore police and subsequent protests by those affected by this. I was unaware and ignorant of these developments initially, but happened to learn about it from Sandesh’s blog and Churumuri. I am not a party animal and quite ignorant to issues pertaining to night life, alcohol and related subjects. So was kind of neutral on this issue and didn’t have anything specific to comment/blog upon. However Sandesh urged me to blog on this topic and after reading few discussions at couple of places, including Muziboo and Churumuri, I decided to study the matter a bit and pen down my thoughts.
I believe the discussions at Churumuri comfortably deviated from the core issue and even Sandesh missed the main point. While those who supported the ban focused their arguments around the facts like ‘nightlife is bad for society’, ’alcohol consumption is not good’, ‘pubs facilitate drugs and other illegal activities under the disguise of relaxation’, ‘accidents and crime rates are soaring due to late night partying, alcohol consumption and related activities’ and so on. While there is near 100% truth in these arguments, the point protestors were trying to drive home was entirely different. I believe the 11.30 closure time was existing for quite some time and is nothing new-several cities have this rule. Even other side effects are obvious and no one was advocating on its behalf. What caused the fury of certain people was the ban on performance of live music, in line with live dancing which had created a nuisance earlier and was eventually banned. While everyone supporting the ban expressed relief that crime will now come under control, no one cared to explain the musicians who were protesting, as to how banning live music in pubs had anything to do with the crime rates or other previously stated side effects. The sole argument, if any, was that music triggers consumption of alcohol and subsequently tempts the audience into dancing followed by other activities, which at a high level isn’t sounding logical enough.
Let us take a little closer look:
Media reports say that police have enforced a ban on all kinds of live performances in the places that serve alcohol. From this statement, I understand the following:
1. Live performance like singing music and playing an instrument are banned throughout the day in places where alcohol is served, not just after 11.30 PM.
2. No ban on playing recorded music. It is not clear if acts of a DJ (mixing different music tracks) is also classified as live performance. I guess it is not.
3. There is no ban on serving alcohol till 11.30 PM
4. No restrictions on performing live in places that doesn’t serve alcohol
Obviously, this has taken its toll on few budding musicians who used to earn a living by singing at pubs and bars. They can no more sing live and have to explore alternate source of income or shift base to another city. There’re some alternatives for these people but they are not sounding viable. For example,
1 Bars and pubs are not the only places where music can be sung/performed. Bangalore has several places of cultural importance like Ranga Shankara (JP Nagar), Ravindra Kalakshetra (JC Road), Sheshaiyya Memorial Hall (Malleswaram) and so on. These musicians can organize concerts/live shows here. But the problem is, most of their target audience, the party hoppers, may not have the remotest idea what Ravindra Kalashetra is and where it is located. So these people are unlikely to attend a show held outside bar premises. Rest of the Bangalore public doesn’t understand the western music often played by these folks and won’t be in a position to differentiate between Rock, Pop, Jazz, karaoke and sundry other types of music played by them, let alone appreciate it. (Add to that these musics are usually too loud and disturbing, unless you're used to it you're unlikely to like it)
2 If restaurants can say “We’ll play live music, but won’t serve alcohol”, then that should be fine as per law. But the party hoppers are unlikely to compromise on alcohol for the sake of music. They would rather go to other bars where alcohol is served without music. So the musicians and singers are unlikely to get support from their audience, who would resume their visit to pubs with or without live music.
3 Other revenue sources, like publishing an audio album are not practical and economically viable for small time singers, due to piracy and lack of support from big music houses.
Because of these reasons those affected by the ban are forced to try their luck in getting the ban lifted or find an alternative income source.
Coming back to the ban, I believe no use blaming police force on this. Shankar Bidri is one of the highly respected police officers in Karnataka (is best known for his efforts in clipping the wings of Veerappan’s gang) and he is technically correct in saying “we’re just implementing the excise act which prohibits any kind of live performance”. Yes, it is unfair to treat singers and musicians at par with bar dancers, and generalize that all party goers will behave like maniacs once they come out. But I guess protesters will have to approach the state legislature to get the law modified.
One question still bugs me-Isn’t banning alcohol altogether a better idea? Why don’t the government ask Vijay Mallya to shut down all his distilleries? Let us go to the root cause of all this and ban liquor of all kind - most of the problem would get automatically resolved. But no government ever dared to do that-both because of the tax money and because of the fact that liquor lobby is far more powerful than a bunch of musicians who are protesting because their daily bread is at stake. It is like, they want the money in the form of excise tax, but need someone else to blame for side effects of the same.
While those who imposed the ban and those supporting it claim this will help bring down crime rate, the effectiveness remains to be seen. In my opinion the side effects of alcohol consumption will not come down by curbing music, because alcoholics will go ahead with their indulgence with or without music. Mumbai police have much stricter rules-of jailing people found driving under the influence of alcohol. Such measures will be of greater impact than slapping a fine of mere few hundred rupees. Similar vigilance and actions will be required for other menaces like drugs. Bring in an atmosphere wherein each one fears law and stays in his/her limits-should be an easy task for people like Shankar Bidri, provided no one interfere in his way.
However this matter bothers only a very small segment of people and majority of people have supported the decision. For the general public, some ban is much better than no ban and they would naturally support any initiative that remotely promises them something better (provided they are not affected by it). Any attempt to explain that the decision is unlikely to have the stated impact will make you sound like a pro Jihadi fellow. Accusations such as “this move will prevent hard working people from having some relaxations and recreation” also sound baseless. There’re several ways to cheer up life other than spending whole night shaking legs in a disco under the influence of alcohol. One can buy a dozen books at the cost of one night party expense and keep themselves busy reading them for a whole month. Activities like gardening, painting, caring for pets all these are far more refreshing and fulfilling than sipping hard liquor till wee hours in the morning. But sadly most of us are not willing to explore these alternatives.
Last Sunday when the likes of Girish Karnad, Prasad Biddappa and his aides held a protest, it was said that the protest will be held every Sunday. There was no news of protest yesterday, has the resistance has died down?